Israel Refuses to Enter the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:19-45)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

In the wilderness, the people's fear leads to a failure to trust God. As a result they rebel against God’s plan for them to enter the land he promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deut. 1:7-8). God had brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt, given the law at Mt. Horeb (Sinai), and brought the people swiftly to the borders of the promised land (Deut. 1:19-20). Moses then announces it is time to enter the land, but the people are fearful of the Amorites who occupy the borders. They convince Moses to send a scouting expedition as a matter of prudent planning. The scouts return with a good report of the land. At this point the people’s true concern is revealed—they are afraid. “The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven,” they tell Moses, adding that “our hearts melt” (Deut. 1:28). The people do not trust God to fulfill his promises, so they refuse to follow his commands.

God’s response is severe. “Not one of these—not one of this evil generation—shall see the good land that I swore to give to your ancestors” (Deut. 1:35).  Entering Canaan had been delayed for the children and lost forever for the parents. Even Moses is barred from entering the land because he demonstrated a lack of trust in God himself, perhaps by agreeing to send scouts. Soon after, the people realize that they have condemned themselves to a lifetime of eking out an existence in the desert instead of enjoying the “good land” (Deut. 1:25) God had prepared for them. Belatedly, they make their own plans to attack the Amorites. But God declares, “Do not go up and do not fight, for I am not in the midst of you; otherwise you will be defeated by your enemies” (Deut. 1:42). A lack of trust in God’s promises leads Israel to miss the blessings he had in store for them.

When we know what is right, but are tempted to violate it, trust in God is all we have to keep us in God’s ways. This is not a matter of moral fiber. If even Moses failed to trust God completely, can we really imagine that we will succeed? Instead, it is a matter of God’s grace. We can pray for God’s Spirit to strengthen us when we stand for what is right, and we can ask for God’s forgiveness when we fall. Like Moses and the people of Israel, failure to trust God can have serious consequences in life, but our failure is ultimately redeemed by God’s grace. (For more on this episode, see “When Leadership Leads to Unpopularity” in Numbers 13 and 14 above.)